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In re Marriage of Mahoney

Supreme Court of Montana

October 9, 2018

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF SANDRA L. MAHONEY, Petitioner and Appellant,
v.
PHILLIP M. MAHONEY, Respondent and Appellee.

          ORDER

         Representing himself, Appellee Phillip M. Mahoney (Phillip) requests this Court dismiss the appeal filed by Appellant Sandra L. Mahoney (Sandra), who is represented by counsel. Sandra attached to her Notice of Appeal, the order she appeals. This order is the Standing Master's Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Decree of Dissolution entered.

         Phillip requests that this appeal be dismissed because the District Court's decision is fair and equitable, pursuant to § 40-4-202(1), MCA, and that the decision is proper in its award of the property and debts. He explains that it has taken over three years with multiple judges to obtain a resolution. Phillip urges this Court to stand by the District Court's original decision. He adds that he is "out of funds . . ." after paying for counsel's representation in the underlying proceeding.

         Sandra states that Phillip has not provided a basis or reason for dismissal. Sandra argues that Phillip's motion "does not challenge the timing of the filing of the within appeal or any other basis that would justify dismissal of this appeal." Sandra states that she wants to have "a chance to argue her case for reversal of the lower court's ruling." Sandra points out that she has not filed her opening brief, and she asks that we strike the motion and Phillip's affidavit from the record. No motion accompanies this request.

         In light of the order from which Sandra indicates she appeals and Beals v. Beals, 2013 MT 120, 370 Mont. 88, 300 P.3d 1158, a review of the procedural history of the case is necessary. The District Court referred the underlying dissolution to a Standing Master on September 14, 2016. The Standing Master set a bench trial for June 15, 2017. On February 20, 2018, the Standing Master entered the Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Decree of Dissolution on February 20, 2018. On the same day, the Clerk of District Court issued a Notice, which gave all parties ten days within which to file objections to this report.

         Neither Sandra nor Phillip, each of whom was represented by counsel during trial, filed objections. To the contrary, Sandra filed a Notice of Entry of Decree of Dissolution on February 23, 2018, and then filed a Corrected Notice of Entry of Decree of Dissolution on March 30, 2018. In the Corrected Notice, counsel stated that "no objections hav[e] been filed[.]" Also on that day, Sandra filed a Combined Motion to Amend Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Decree of Dissolution along with a Brief. Phillip's counsel filed a motion to withdraw on April 11, 2018, and the Standing Master granted counsel's withdrawal on April 17, 2018. The Standing Master transferred the case to the Honorable Gregory G. Pinski on June 15, 2018, and the court issued an order on Sandra's Combined Motion and other filings on June 21, 2018. The court concluded that "[r]egarding substantive matters under Mont. R. Civ. P. 59(e), more than 60 days has elapsed" and any request for substantive changes to the Standing Master's order were "deemed denied." Regarding clerical errors, the District Court concluded that "the only clerical errors are misspelling the Respondent's name and inaccurately reflecting the Petitioner and Respondent's names. The District Court made these corrections. After the District Court issued its June 21, 2018 Order, Sandra filed a motion to reconsider in the District Court, which was denied on August 27, 2018. Sandra filed her notice of appeal in this Court on June 29, 2018.

         In Beals, we explained that the "method for obtaining review of a decision made by a standing master is for the party to file with the district court written specific objections within ten days after being served with notice of the filing of the standing master's findings and conclusions of law or order." Beats, ¶ 11. Section 3-5-126(2), MCA. In Beats, we dismissed the appeal because the appellant failed to make objections to the standing master's order and, instead, attempted to appeal directly to this Court from the standing master's order. We explained and clearly stated that a party could not appeal directly from a standing master's order to this Court.

         Here, Sandra did not file with the District Court any objections to the Standing Master's February 20, 2018 Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Decree of Dissolution. In this appeal, Sandra attaches the Standing Master's order as the order from which her appeal is taken. To the extent she asked the District Court to amend the Standing Master's order, which was untimely pursuant to 3-5-126(2), MCA, the District Court correctly recognized that the time for requesting review had expired. Although Phillip does not raise § 3-5-126(2), MCA, as a basis to dismiss, any appeal would be futile pursuant to our clear precedent established in Beats.

         Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that Phillip's Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED, and this appeal is DISMISSED. The Standing Master's Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Decree of Dissolution, amended by the District Court's correction of clerical errors, remains the valid order in the underlying proceeding.

         The Clerk is directed to provide a copy of this Order to counsel of ...


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